At first glance, that may seem to be a silly question. Democrats, by and large, tend to do better than the GOP among young voters, and for several years now the gun control lobby has insisted that young voters are clamoring for more restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. Heck, they’ve got an organization of young gun control activists, albeit one that’s largely bankrolled by March For Our Lives’ wealthy elder patrons.
Yet a new analysis from the website FiveThirtyEight is throwing some cold water on the idea that younger voters are looking for candidates who’ll advance a gun control agenda. In fact, as reporter Alex Samuels found out, the Democrats’ continued embrace of anti-gun zealotry is leading some younger Americans to vote for the GOP even when the Republican Party doesn’t align with some of their other interests.
To better understand who these voters are and what motivates them to align with a party that has remained conservative on many issues important to Gen Z, I looked at polling data and political science for clues. I also spoke with six Gen-Z voters who voted for Trump and either identify as Republican or lean Republican. What I learned is that most of them break with the mainstream of the Republican Party on many social and cultural issues, but solidly agree with the GOP’s stances on the economy. They also think the Democratic Party, as it is now, has veered too far left, specifically with its stances on immigration, gun control and race.
… The fact that young Republicans aren’t that different from their Democratic peers on some social issues is largely on par with what academic research and studies from Pew have found, though not all social issues were as cut-and-dried. For example, even though two-thirds of Gen Zers want stricter gun measures, according to Rasmussen Reports survey data, young Republicans are still far less likely than young Democrats to want to ban assault rifles, according to Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape. One of the Republican men I spoke with said gun rights had even become a barometer for how he judges political candidates. “If you know somebody’s opinion on gun rights, you can make a pretty educated guess as to where they stand on every other issue — even unrelated ones,” Stephan Kapustka, 22, told me.
I have to say, I’m not sure why Samuels cited a 2019 poll showing broad support for gun control measures among Gen Z voters when more recent polling has shown a substantial decline among young adults who believe more gun laws are necessary or would be effective.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday from among more than 1,000 U.S. adults found that Americans overall are less supportive of new gun control legislations than they were just three years ago. People between the ages of 18-29 saw the sharpest decline in backing for new weapons laws, with fewer than half now saying new legislation is needed to reduce the risk of future mass shootings or to block “red flag” buyers.
In April 2018, the last time the ABC/Washington Post survey was conducted on this issue, 65 percent of these young Americans said they support gun control laws. That percentage is now 45.
FiveThirtyEight is acting like support for gun control among young Americans is sky-high, when polls taken over the past year or so tell a very different story. In act, even in the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape poll that FiveThirtyEight cites as evidence that young Democrats are still far more enthusiastic about gun control restrictions, a ban on so-called assault weapons was actually the least popular “progressive” proposal among young Democats.
Fewer than 60% of the 18-24 year old Democrats surveyed for the Democracy Fund/UCLA poll backed a ban on scary black rifles; still a majority, but far less than the support shown by young Democrats for things like a tax on carbon emissions, investing in technology to protect the environment, LGBTQ+ rights, and legalizing marijuana.
This data, taken together, suggest that gun control isn’t the winning issue that older Democrats think it is, at least when it comes to attracting younger voters. There’s a sizable number of young adults who may skew left on many social issues, but still embrace their right to keep and bear arms. I’d argue that the commonality in all of these issues is that they can be viewed from a freedom-related perspective: free to choose an abortion, free to toke up without going to jail, free to express your sexuality or gender identity, and free to bear arms in self-defense.
Now, having said that, I also need to acknowledge that there are still many young adults who have and will continue to vote against their Second Amendment self-interest, because they view the Democrats as better on other issues like student loan forgiveness or raising the minimum wage. In fact, I think there’s an argument to be made that support for the Second Amendment is actually pretty common among younger voters, with the more partisan divides coming into play over economic policies and the competing philosophies of collectivism and capitalism.
Still, we’re already seeing some Democrats shy away from their past support for gun control and in favor of playing up their approval of “community violence intervention” and other strategies for fighting crime that don’t involve police locking up a disparate number of young black and brown men on non-violent, possessory charges. It’s not a pro-2A argument, but it’s not explicitly pro-gun control either. The implicit support, however, is still present, since these Democrats aren’t calling for those gun control laws to be removed from the books. Not yet, anyway, but if support for more restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms keeps dropping among young voters, it might not be long before the nearly extinct pro-gun Democratic politician starts to make a comeback.